Doritos: A Brilliant Native Ad and PR Play

Excerpt from the new Amazon almost-best-seller:

Media Collusion: Journalism and Marketing Experts Share the Secrets of Sneaky Advertising, Targeted Persuasion, AI and Tracking, Political Deception and Coercion, and Dishonest News 

This is a good one, buckle your seat belts. Once you start looking for these, you’ll see them every week if you have any exposure to TV.

Here’s the set-up. Doritos released information to the media that they were working on a chip that wouldn’t crunch loudly and be messy. The idea? A chip that women could eat without feeling self-conscious or impolite! This wasn’t just a whim. The whole thing was set up by their PR firm or advertising agency, and they pretended the female CEO of PepsiCo (the Doritos parent company) came up with the idea. 

Here’s the brilliant part. The mainstream media went nuts for the story. Some were actually outraged. They brought bags of chips onto the sets of their TV broadcasts and delivered both funny and serious rants against the idea. CNN chimed in, saying it was a bad idea. As if CNN doesn’t recognize a publicity stunt when it sees one! NBC’s Today Show pooh-poohed the idea. Late night talk show host Seth Meyers had the best zinger, saying, “. . . because there’s no more appropriate snack for the #metoo era than a chip that tells women to be quiet?” 

Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld captured the clips in his humorous but serious take on the subject that includes some real outrage that should have happened over the Iranian crackdown on women protesting wearing head scarves. But, he really just fell for the stunt just like all the others. In fact, he dedicated 6 minutes and 20 seconds to his segment. Check out the part at the 2:30 mark where the panelist with the blonde hair talks about how the company quickly said “just kidding” about the proposal to make the chips. That’s a tell. The panelist goes on to lampoon the CEO of the company, as if the CEO is so naïve to consider this in the first place. They were never planning on making the chip. 

This is post-Super Bowl advertising brilliance. They’re cashing in on a lot of snacking good will from the football event the week before and simply doubling down on all the imprinting they did during the Super Bowl commercials. They got a big bump in popularity and the impressions they make on our minds with all this free advertising. Here’s the clip: 

Now, let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit and take the position of PepsiCo. Let’s say this was real news. The CEO thought of this idea, and they were testing it by leaking the information to the press. Maybe that’s plausible. Maybe there’s a future for gender-specific foods. In some ways there are already products – like Special K and certain dainty yogurts – that seem to target female audiences in their advertising more than men. Anyway, if they get feedback from news shows and funny anchors about whether this is a good idea . . does that help their case? Don’t they already have focus groups in place to test these theories? You don’t simply have the CEO leak information then take the temperature of talk show hosts. 

So, no, I don’t think this was a legitimate floating of an idea to see if it might be favorably received by the press. This was an overt PR stunt – brilliant, by the way – aimed at gathering up as much news coverage as possible without spending a dime. Granted, all the stations with hosts debating this new chip have advertised PepsiCo products and Doritos every day for the past who knows how many decades. 

These days, you’ll see a lot of this starting on Twitter. The company, PR firm, Ad agency or the brand’s spokesperson or spokesmodel will Tweet out some provocative message in hopes of virality. This is common practice for A/B testing product ideas or promotion ideas. Authors of books even do it to see which title ideas are playing favorably on social media. Author Tim Ferris of Four Hour Work Week fame used that very technique back in 2008 to decide the title of his book. Does Twitterverse like title A or title B? All you have to do is track retweets and likes in a big enough population sample, and you can pick a winner. You can also multivariate test, which is the same concept as A/B, but you just add in more variables to the choice – A, B, C, D, etc. 

This was a classic native ad campaign. Convenient that sex and gender played into the fall-out. It’s especially delicious for the times we live in and was easy fodder for late night comedy TV shows, newscasts, tweets by famous people etc. AdAge sums it up nicely (sounds like a promo with the quotes they use in the story!) 

Epic: “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate,” a spokeswoman stated in an emailed Monday evening. “We already have Doritos for women–they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

Uber-epic: “When you eat out of a flex bag—one of our single-serve bags—especially as you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor, and the broken chips in the bottom,” she said in the interview, according to a transcript. “Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.”




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